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Bad Karma (#398)
Deriding those who make different choices than us, or championing a lack of empathy, send us down a one-way track to misery.
As a New England Patriots fan, I’m rarely phased when something bad happens to the New York Jets, our long-term rivals in the National Football League. But the latest Jets tragedy caught my attention for reasons that have nothing to do with football.
Last week, Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ much-anticipated debut ended almost as soon as it began. He tore his Achilles tendon during a routine tackle just three minutes into the game, ending his season. Facing such a catastrophic injury at age 39 puts the future of Rodgers’ Hall of Fame career very much in doubt.
In sports, fierce competitiveness is encouraged, even among fans. Every sports fan has reveled in a rival’s embarrassing loss. But there’s one pretty consensus rule in sports: you don’t cheer for an opponent’s injury. It’s simply not a decent thing to do, and it just feels like very bad karma.
So, I was shocked to see many social media posts gleefully jeering Rodgers after his injury. While I am sure some of these comments were from rival fans, the vast majority of commenters were joking about Rodgers’ decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, which became national news when Rodgers contracted the virus in 2021.
I recognize that the COVID-19 vaccine has become one of the most divisive topics of our times. Given that we find a way to argue over even minor topics, it’s not a surprise that debates about that vaccine have led to some truly ugly comments online. It’s also worth acknowledging that the anti-vaccine crowd has had plenty of low brow moments in this discourse.
But regardless of vaccination status or belief, I cannot understand why so many people would celebrate another person’s misfortune simply because they made a different choice. While Rodgers spoke publicly about his decision not to get vaccinated and initially misled reporters on his status, he never criticized people for getting the shot, nor did he spread conspiracy theories. He later apologized for his misleading comments about his status. And, in most accounts throughout his career, Rodgers has been characterized as a decent person and good teammate.
Rodgers’ case is a high-profile example of the divisiveness we see so often today. We all can choose to either feed that divisive cycle or attempt to turn down the temperature by recognizing the common humanity of people with different beliefs or choices. Most of our parents told us to be kind and not exclude people; we expect these behaviors from children, but not always from the adults who should be setting the example.
It’s true that there are a small number of cynical, malicious people in every ideological movement, and those people often control the megaphone. But the rest of us implicitly endorse this behavior when we don’t actively denounce it. What we permit, we promote.
Using our energy to deride those who make different choices than us, or championing a lack of empathy, are two ways to send our society down a one-way track to misery for everyone. We are hardwired to be tribal and ingratiate ourselves with the in-group, but we have to fight that wiring when it damages our character.
I don’t believe most of us want a world—or a media environment—that is defined by cheap shots and take downs, where everyone screams and yells but no one listens or cares. We don’t have to allow the loudest, worst voices to speak for all of us.
But cutting through the noise requires using some of our social capital to reject the vocal minority, show decency to others, and assume positive intent. We must see the person on the other side of the debate as more than a faceless representation of what we cannot stand, viewed through the tinted lens of our own biases and culture.
We reap what we sow, and our social discourse is inevitably defined by the worst behavior we either offer or tolerate. The truest measure of character is when we treat others with kindness even when it’s not expected of us—such as when we’re hiding behind a screen.
Aaron Rodgers is a Hall of Fame athlete with unimaginable wealth and some controversial personal choices. He’s also a human being, same as the people who jeered him at his lowest moment to score points with their tribe.
While I am always happy for the Jets to lose, I see no reason to root for anyone’s suffering, unless they have committed some kind of horrific crime against humanity. It’s bad karma and it’s poisonous to our own mindsets. What goes around always comes around.
Quote of The Week
"Karma is like a rubber-band: it can only stretch so far before it comes back and smacks you in the face." - Unknown
Have a great weekend!
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